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Finale

4 September 2018

Wandlitz to Berlin

It was a short ride into Berlin this morning. We passed through some satellite towns before spying the silver sphere of the Fernsehturm gleaming on the horizon. After arriving in Kreuzberg we needed to offload our luggage for a few hours so asked the friendly bike shop folks at Velomondo who kindly agreed to stash the panniers out the back. Then it was off to the Sommerbad for a swim.

Florian and Lena welcomed us back to their apartment where we stayed after landing here in July. Also staying here are Fanny and Bertrand from France. We had fun playing a board game called Dog around the kitchen table and drinking bottles of lemonade flavoured mate of which Florian has an oversupply remaining from his DIY bike camp. A big thanks from us to Florian and Lena who are extraordinarily generous hosts – it has been great fun to stay with them and to experience a little of daily life in Kreuzberg.

Now all we have to do is pack up and get to the airport on time!

Thanks to all our readers and followers. Bye!

Next we take Berlin

3 September 2018

Schwedt to Wandlitz, Germany

Dawn broke with clear blue skies and wisps of mist around the trees but by the time we had breakfasted and packed, the mist had settled in and we rode off up the Oder River in mild, still conditions. The scenes across the river flats and the ridge to the west were enhanced by the fog.

We left the river at Lunow-Stolzenhagen and headed west towards Berlin. A local bike riding codger called Eric gave us some advice and encouragement and we cycled on through rolling farmland and forest.

A bad, rocky forest track led us to Kloster Chorin (ruined church and cloisters) where, to our surprise, a church service was just starting with four massed brass bands and a large congregation. They sounded pretty good taking turns at hymn verses and all joining in on a bluesy kyrie.

An excellent cycle path led us to Eberswalde and then we were stuck on a nasty, narrow and busy road for too long before finding quieter alternatives to Wandlitz for our last night before Berlin.

A day in Gdansk

31 August 2018

(I was banned from having G’day in Gdansk as the title for today’s blog. Is that fair? Is that just?)

So, last things first, we had an excellent dinner experience this evening. Rosalie went out on a flaneurism expedition this afternoon while I did lip slurs in our hotel room (don’t worry it’s a trumpet thing). She found an unassuming restaurant called Kresowa on the intersection of two side roads off the main King’s Walk in old Gdansk. One name on an awning and a few linen-clothed tables under a linden tree was all Kresowa had on display but it was a fine un-touristic experience. The salmon blinis with caviar were excellent. We did agree that Rosalie’s Lithuanian Zeppelins (dumplings) were a little stodgy but had it been winter or had we’d ridden 100km we wouldn’t have complained. The world needs more Kresowas.

We spent a grim morning at the Gdansk World War 2 Museum. Having grown up with the Western Allies’ perspective it is interesting to learn from those that lived at the heart of successive disasters.

With a weight of justification, the museum portrays Poland as a main victim of the war and 20th century politics. A close reading reveals a few veiled acknowledgments of local complicity with the Holocaust – a hot political topic in Poland these days. The Catholic Church seems to get off scot free with no mention of its cosy wartime arrangements with Nazi Germany. The unrelenting internal decor of slate grey, cast concrete and subdued lighting combined with the confronting content to make a memorable impact.

After the museum we went on to the Memorial to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 (remember Lech Wałęsa & Solidarity?). While WW2 finished for us in 1945, in many ways the Solidarity movement marked the next page in Polish history after the German/Russian then Soviet domination of the preceding decades.

An early morning foray onto the desrted and freshly washed, cobbled streets was worth the sacrificed lie-in as the highly ornamented buildings looked fine.

Gdansk is an impressive city that is managing the touristic load pretty well.

Kaliningrad

28 August 2018

Nida, Lithuania to Zelenogradsk by bike – Zelenogradsk to Kaliningrad by train

A nice breakfast, a quick trip to the Nida lighthouse and then we were off to the Russian border for our traverse of the Kaliningrad exclave.

 

The passport formalities were a breeze with even the Russian border officials verging on friendly. Just past the border, after paying 150 roubles ($3) national park entry fee, we spied a moose. A female (no antlers) was standing in the middle of the road about 200m away. We managed one poor photo but were thrilled all the same.

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The rest of the Curonian Spit passed easily in cool, sunny conditions. The Russian half of the spit affords few scenic opportunities but we did get some views of the lagoon and Baltic Sea. There were plenty of mushroom pickers out with their buckets and little knives.

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Zelenogradsk, at the southern end of the spit was bustling. It must have been a splendid seaside resort in its heyday and is still popular but is looking a bit the worse for wear with abandoned apartment buildings on the seafront and failed attempts to preserve the sandy beaches. Nevertheless, it has many attractive buildings, parks and a refurbished mall.

 

We caught a train to Kaliningrad. The tickets cost $1 plus $0.26 for a bike but in other respects the railway system needs to lift its game.

Firstly, while the Kaliningrad is currently on Eastern European Summer Time along with the Baltic States, the Kaliningrad trains run on Moscow time (one hour later). So we went to the Zelenogradsk station at 14:45 to catch the 15:15 train but had already missed it! Fortunately, we could catch the 16:10 train at 15:10!

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Secondly, the new trains are almost impossible to board. They are schmick, fast and quiet in the Bombardier mould but are really designed for elevated platforms. Kaliningrad has ground-level platforms so the carriage floors are almost 1.5 metres up. Steep external steps have been added but they are more like ladders than steps. Able-bodied passengers can just cope but it is difficult to lift luggage up to the floor of the carriage and precarious to climb as the handrails are inconveniently placed. We struggled with our bikes and helped several old women in and out. One of them had already barked her shin before we got to her. The accessibility of these new trains is a DISGRACE. It is hard to imagine that elderly passengers will persist with them.

Kaliningrad is hectic with a mix of Germanic and Sovietsky architecture, mostly needing maintenance.

 

Klaipeda and the Curonian Spit

27 August 2018

Klaipeda to Nida, Lithuania

We went out for an early morning exploration before breakfast.

Klaipeda was controlled by successive German states until the Treaty of Versailles on 1919. Its Germanic heritage is immediately apparent in the buildings, squares and town layout. The old town has survived (or recovered from) the privations of the 20th century. So too have many cobblestone streets which shook us awake.

The Soviet Boroughs looked shabby but not as bleak as we expected. They stretch for kilometres in repetitive blocks south of the centre. We visited the brutalist St Joseph’s Catholic Church. Finished in the 1990s, it is a massive concrete structure that resembles an ugly power station. Perhaps the architects were unable to throw off the Soviet yoke. Sunday Mass was underway so we discreetly peeked inside and went on our way. Under a leaden sky, St Joseph’s was scowling across the road at a more conventional Orthodox Church.

After dodging some heavy rain showers by taking refuge in bus shelters, we sped back to the hotel for breakfast.

We took the pedestrian/cyclist ferry across the lagoon and headed south on pleasant bike paths along the Curonian Spit towards Russia. This slender, sandy, forested peninsula stretches for 100km separating the huge Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. It is a popular holiday destination but the high season is over now and the crowds have thinned.

On the way we were befriended by a young Lithuanian cyclist, Marius, aged 17 from Kaunas, who rode with us for awhile. He was curious about us and said that old people (ha ha) in Lithuania don’t do sports like we were doing. He is in year 11 at gymnasium and plans to study IT at university. He told us that he broke both his legs in a skiing accident in Norway a few years ago and that since his recovery he has taken up cycling and is now a serious road rider. We formed a peloton for awhile with Marius ‘making a tunnel in the air’, as he described it, but eventually we released him from this responsibility and he soon vanished ahead of us.

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About 20km north of Nida we took a break from the bikes and a board-walk to the top of a high but eroding dune for a spectacular view of the lagoon, spit and Baltic Sea.

We are staying in Nida on the shores of the lagoon just shy of the Russian border. This is place is popular with local tourists. The houses are well designed and maintained and brightly painted in a blue, white and Swedish red colour scheme. There are few cars driving around the village which is thronging with pedestrians and cyclists.

Riga at a glance

23 August 2018

We are staying in Cheap and Good Apartments near the railway station. They are neither particularly cheap nor good but manager Jarek was friendly and the location convenient.

The rock music in the station square stopped at about 11pm so that the road works outside our room could continue in peace for the next few hours. We eventually overcame our addiction to fresh air, closed the double glazed windows and went back to sleep.

 

We went on an early morning sortie and saw the Opera House, Freedom Monument, old city and the splendid Daugava River. We had a hearty breakfasts at Merkel’s Restaurant across the under- construction road using half-price coupons from our lodgings.

 

The huge Riga Market is amazing. It fills 5 relocated Zeppelin hangars. Several have fresh produce. One is dedicated to pickles and another to fish (mostly smoked or dried) and expensive caviar. We can’t carry any of it. However, looking is free and most stall holders are happy with photos. Riga is a party town with hundreds of bars and cafes. We haven’t seen so much street life since Germany.

Brooding next door is the Riga Holocaust Museum on the site of one of Riga’s wartime ghettos. The museum provides a sobering reminder of unspeakable things that happened here during the second world war.

 

We caught a lift to the observation desk of the imposing, neo-gothic, sovietsky Latvian Academy of Science for tremendous views of the city and river – well worth the 5 Euro price.

We had dinner with Anastasia who lives in Riga and stayed with us in Adelaide a few years ago. Her family is of Russian ethnic background and we heard that the Latvian government considers Russian-Latvians aliens in their own country.

Mobile phone roaming update

23 August 2018

Riga

I need to update my previous glowing report about international roaming with a mobile phone in the EU.

All was rosey, as I previously reported, until the initial month ran out and I sought assistance with an extension while in Finland. It was not smooth sailing.

It transpires that, while they took our passport details, the small mobile phone agency in Berlin that seemed to assist by registering our Ortel SIMs for us didn’t actually do that using OUR names. Consequently, we were unable to extend our contracts.

Ortel advised that this problem could only be rectified at a post office, any post office, in GERMANY.

Lessons learnt?

  1. Register your own cards or supervise the process closely.
  2. It’s cheap and easy to buy prepaid SIMs in Russia and the Baltic states as there is no registration process.

I wonder which dodgy person ended up with our reputable SIMs.

Avoiding a bad road

22 August 2018

Rapla to Purtsi

As we approach Latvia we’ve been worrying about the coast road between Parnu and Riga. Although part of a Eurovelo route, cyclists have described it as heavily trafficked, narrow, lacking a sealed shoulder and offering no respite or alternatives.

In Rapla, we considered our options and this morning caught a schmick Estonian railcar to Viljandi. From there, two easy days will get us to Valga in Latvia and then a train to Riga. With time running out we can choose which bits we ride on bikes and which on trains.

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Rapla Church

The weather is cool and sunny and everything looks fresh after yesterday’s rain. We enjoyed a fine breakfast at the Jõe Guesthouse with the other cyclists and then caught the train to Viljandi.

Viljandi street art

We struggled to find the centre of Viljandi but as we did so we learnt that it is quite a big town. A bakery with a golden pretzel sign filled us with hope but was a disappointment. A cafe in a shopping centre had a better range of pastries but we’d already stocked up. We’re looking forward to being back in Germany with its countless bakeries.

We sheltered from a heavy rain storm at a bus shelter in Mustla.

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In front of the bus stop is a diminutive statue of the town’s famous son, Martin Klein. Martin represented the Russian Empire at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912. He won what should have been his penultimate bout in that contest after an 11 hour grapple with the reining work champion but was left too exhausted to wrestle for the gold medal the next day. He took silver and became the first Estonian Olympic medal winner albeit for Russia.

Martin Klein statue, Mustla

A glorious tail wind helped us spin our wheels in fine fashion through pleasant rolling farmlands to a guest house near a lake at miniscule Purtsi.

Purtsi, Estonia

Out of Russia

17 August 2018

St Petersburg to Ivangorod and Narva

We have our train tickets and are waiting at Baltiyskiy Vokzal for our train to Ivangorod on the Estonian border.

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Major railway stations in Russia are called ‘vokzals’. There are several explanations for this and they all relate to Vauxhall Station in London. The more entertaining and least respectful are similar to those stories about why Europeans call those large hopping marsupials kangaroos. The most credible explanation is that the first Russian railway station was built at a popular pleasure garden in Pavlovsk that was modelled on Vauxhall Gardens in London. That railway station became known as a vokzal and subsequently so did all major stations.

We spent our last morning in SPB travelling on the Metro to look at the stylish stations and their environs. In Soviet times, a large investment was made in the Metro and the stations were lavishly and tastefully styled in neo-classical and art deco themes to celebrate and elevate the workers who built and used them.

Marble, brass, bronze, mosaics and cut glass adorn these proletarian shrines. Friezes of noble male and female workers and busts of Lenin are everywhere. I’ll let the pictures do the talking but suffice to say the system is clean, well-maintained, efficient and heavily used.

Trains run at 3 minute intervals so there’s no need to rush to catch that one at the platform as another will be along in a jiffy. Single trip tokens cost less than a dollar. Polite young locals leap to their feet to offer their seats to silver-haired passengers.

Many of the stations are deep underground. One can barely see the bottom from the top of the vertiginous escalators. Smartly uniformed women sleep in booths to monitor possible hooliganism.

We boarded the train with a few other cyclists and it steadily filled until an on-time departure.

We struggled to make our bicycles seem small and only a small inconvenience to the other passengers and train staff. Others successfully hid their uncontained pets from the conductor.

Hot and stuffy, we pulled out into the sunset and rattled and bumped our way through industrial areas, weekend dachas and vegetable plots then scrubby farmland. The dilapidated villages looked romantically rustic in the late summer evening light.

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This train took us to Ivangorod on the Estonian border

We’ve made it to Estonia. Good night.

Tourism central

15 August 2018

St Petersburg

After a breakfast of black coffee and pishki (donuts) we visited the Hermitage. We joined what seemed to us a long queue at the entrance for visitors with the foresight to buy tickets online and thereby avoid queuing. Once the doors opened our non-queue moved fairly quickly and we were in. The place was already thronging! It became clear during the morning that the purchase of online tickets is well worth the small additional expense as the huge queues in Palace Square were glacial throughout the morning.

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Cannibal Tours at the Hermitage

An early, fortuitous decision to turn left when everybody else turned right put us in the almost deserted Art Deco wing. It was brilliant with extensive, artfully presented prints, magazine covers and dismembered books including Russian translations of Homer and Kipling. This was the best presented and most overlooked section we saw – delightful.

Rejoining the masses we were overwhelmed by the marble statues, Dutch masters, throne rooms, furniture, peacock clock, parquetry, ceilings and crowds. The salon-hung Rubens room was stunning. Bacchus is more than Rubenesque.

The presentation of all these riches does not do them justice with the emphasis being on the quantity of treasures more than the specialness of any or each of them. Lighting is often patchy and glary and even poor Napoleon’s face is in shade.

Climate control in the building was certainly struggling either due to the unseasonably hot summer that is drawing to a close or the tens of thousands of warm bodies wandering around. Unfiltered sunlight streams in onto irreplaceable paintings and furniture and windows are wedged open for fresh air.

Unfortunately, the palace was designed for the genteel elite and not the lumpen masses and crowd flow is difficult with many choke points and cross currents. There were a few brave souls in wheelchairs doing it tough and spending a fair bit of time waiting at the scarce lifts.

The queue for the women’s toilets was epic while men strolled directly to vacant urinals or stalls. (Sorry for the graphic details but this worldwide problem isn’t going to be fixed until we can talk about it plainly.)

The third floor was dedicated to a 20th century Italian Arte Povera exhibition. The works were presented dismissively and warranted more care and attention.

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‘I just haven’t got a thing to wear’, says Venus.

We had a quiet afternoon and then braved peak hour traffic to see the Smolny Cathedral. The blue and white church dominates quite an austere, institutional part of the city near the great Neva River.

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Good parking!

We returned to our hotel via the Neva embankment, Lenin Square, many bridges, a few canals, one bicycle lane and lots of crazy traffic.

We enjoyed a Georgian aperitif to keep us going until our dinner date with Vlad & Sasha at 10:30. Leaving our bikes at the hotel, we took the Metro from Spasskaya to Markovskaya. The escalators are vertiginous, taking us way down below street and river-bed level. With memories of the seige of Leningrad, the subways are extra deep to serve as bomb shelters.

The Metro is spotless, beautiful, fast and heavily-used. Neo-classical and art deco themes vye for attention. We will explore the Metro more thoroughly before we leave. When a terrorist bombing near Spasskaya in 2017 discouraged residents from using the Metro for a few days the city came to a standstill.

From Markovskaya we walked down Nevsky Prospect to the Caffe Italia. My initial ambivalent impressions of this famous street were totally revised. It is beautiful in the evening and away from the tourist ground zero. It’s necessary to walk to appreciate it. Even cycling is too fast and the traffic too distracting to see into the narrow shopfronts and appreciate the many eye-catching things.

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Moscovskyy Vokzal – railway station

We had a very pleasant time with our new St Petersburg friends. Rosalie ate pasta with petrushka – not Stravinsky’s ballet – petrushka means parsley. We shared a taxi home as the Metro was mostly closed after midnight. The taxi driver was quite adventurous in the almost empty streets.

And so to bed way past our bedtime.

Changing plans

14 August 2018

St Petersburg, Russia

With a healthy dose of cynicism, the locals here in St Petersburg call these ‘Baba Yaga’ buildings. Baba Yaga is a Russian mythical, witch woman with a house on chickens legs. One of Musorgsky’s pictures at the exhibition was the house on chicken legs. He probably had something else in mind.

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A small bombshell went of in our heads last night when we discovered that the only ferry sailing from St Petersburg to Tallin THIS MONTH was on 26 August – no good for us. We’d already decided we’d had enough of fast Russian drivers on narrow country roads and had planned to bale out and take the ferry to Estonia. As there are twice daily sailings between the other Baltic ports we didn’t bother to check. However it seems that there is much less demand for travel to or from St Petersburg and we’d been caught out.

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After some scrabbling around we confirmed that we can take our bikes (assembled) on a slow train (you know, like Australian trains) to Ivangorod on the Estonian border. This mini-crisis has precipitated a decision to skip Moscow and save those days for the Baltic States.

So, we left Sasha and Vlad’s apartment but agreed to have dinner together before we leave St Petersburg and before Vlad returns to his job in the Karelian forests.

We spent the day on the streets of SPB and found it challenging. It is a huge city with chaotic traffic and poor accessibility for bikes and pedestrians. One wouldn’t want to navigate the streets and footpaths in a wheel chair. In fact we’ve seen no wheelchairs and few cyclists.

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Rimsky-Korsakov outside the Admiralty

The city has many canals lined with kilometres of grand or once-grand buildings. The waterfront is rather like Bordeaux but on a larger scale and without Baron Haussman’s finesse. The repair and conservation tasks must be daunting and are not on schedule.

Speaking of daunting tasks, we are catching our breath today and will make our first assault on the Hermitage tomorrow with a two-day pass.

We briefly visited New Holland Island, a depressingly regimented cultural centre and theme-park developed in recent years by Roman Abramovich, billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club and confidante of Vladimir Putin. NHI’s claims to be the coolest, hippest neighbourhood in SPB are belied by the military-style security guards and the chummy totalitarianism of its attendance rules. It is well-manicured but we found it oppressive and left.

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Pink flamingos trapped on New Holland Island

We enjoyed a belated breakfast in an unassuming cafeteria near the Mariinsky Theatre although the food seemed more lunch-aligned. To be fair on that establishment, I think we may have selected from the lunch-time spread. We were attracted to that because a tray of freshly baked stuffed capsicums had just emerged from the kitchen. The food was wholesome if a little bland. The cappuccinos were terrible. My rule henceforth: in Slavic countries stick to black coffee.

The Mariinsky Theatre must have an impressive depth of repertoire and skill at bumping shows if their forthcoming program is anything to go by: Aida one night, Faust the next followed by Parsifal, Onegin, etc in quick succession.

We couldn’t check in to the Capital Hotel until 2pm but the almost comatose concierge let us stash our bags behind his counter. I hate to think how long he’d been on duty but his head was hitting the counter as he repeatedly lost his struggle and dropped off.

We looped past some of the big landmarks, braved a bus lane on Nevsky Prospect for a few blocks and then tried for a better coffee in the unfortunately named and decorated Buddy Cafe. We should have known better. We eschewed milk and asked for espresso but what we got was ristretissimo – ridiculously short in a largish cup.

There are few outdoor cafes so we must learn to spot eateries without the usual cues of tables and umbrellas. We ate excellent Georgian cuisine in a rather swanky restaurant near our hotel while a thunderstorm sent the evening crowds scurrying for shelter. The staff didn’t visibly turn theirs noses up at our shabby appearance.

Oh, and by the way, there were many impressive, gold-trimmed churches.

Into Россию

10 August 2018

Kotka to Torfyanovka

We made an early start but still had a chance to greet Igor with dobroye utro before we left.

A neighbourhood supermarket provided us with breakfast necessities and a neatly manicured park between a smart athletics stadium and the river provided shade, a polished granite picnic table and perfect conditions for a simple breakfast.

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Track and field athletics is popular in Finland with many stadia and prime time TV coverage featuring lythe and muscular Nordic athletes.

We enjoyed a splendid cycleway almost all the way to Hamina on the Gulf of Finland. Soon after, we rejoined the King’s Road which provided perfect cycling through rolling farmlands and forest to Vaalimaa on the Russian border.

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We sang the hymn from Finlandia as a parting gesture to the Finns as we approached the border.

We sailed through Finnish and Russian passport control after remembering, in the nick of time, the correct answer to the trick question on the immigration card about visa sponsorship. The border guards waved us forward to the front of the vehicle queues. Bicycles rule!

We’d chanced upon a quiet time with only short queues heading east but the long, stationary line of trucks trying to head west made us think of those foolish Brexiteers and their self-destructive decision.

It is immediately obvious that we’re in a different country and not just because of internet access issues. There are no neatly manicured parks or polished granite picnic tables.

We’re staying in an AirBnB in a settlement adjacent to the border and life looks pretty tough. Nearby is a decrepit sandy and weedy soccer pitch where the local team was training as we arrived. I think the AirBnB tariff will represent handy income for our host.

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Food and beer at the 24-hour supermarket/restaurant was cheap and quite good enough.

Some technical things

6 August 2018

Garmin and Open Source Maps

Once again we’re using a Garmin GPS. While it inevitably de-skills us for conventional navigation it seems indispensable. Without it we’d need to carry a ream of large scale topographic maps and spend hours navigating in unpleasant parts of cities. We’d also get lost more often.

I’ve baulked at the cost of Garmin maps and while we have a European Garmin map it didn’t include Russia so we’re trying an open source map from openfietsmap.nl. (‘Fiets’ means bicycle in Dutch.)

The openfiets maps are free but ask for a donation. I was able to select a rectangle covering our intended route including Russia and to download a custom map.

The map has shown a few glitches. For instance it doesn’t like to create a route using Scandinavian ferries and eschews a few perfectly good cycling roads.Garmin maps have similar problems.

Good on Openfiets maps I say.

Mobile phone roaming in Europe

Mobile phone roaming in Europe (EU) is a dream now.

Being tight-arsed, we bought pre-paid Ortel SIMs in Berlin with a small data quota and no calls and that’s been really convenient. We need to turn roaming ON and apart from a welcome SMS on crossing a national border all is well. We can receive phones calls and SMSs but need to us Skype or WhatsApp for outgoing comms.

So, the promise of easy roaming in the EU has been delivered. Things will be different in Russia.

Who knows what will happen in the UK post Brexit. We may need to send food parcels. Our second month top up will cost a little more unless we get new SIMs (and new numbers). We’re not THAT tight!

Touchnote postcards

Some of our contacts are too young or too old for the internet so I’ve sent them postcards using Touchnote. (Google it.)

You can compile your card by uploading a photo or two, write a message and add an address. For about $3 Touchnote then prints the card and posts it anywhere in the world.

I haven’t seen one yet but the quality is reported to be good and the price seems fair. It’s nice to be able to use your own photos and good if you have illegible handwriting. You also don’t need to find stamps or a letter box.

Secure bicycle wheel skewers

I’ve always thought quick release bicycle wheels a bad idea outside racing circles. Why make it easy for people to steal your wheels? So, after Rosalie had to buy some fancy new wheels and I found myself in a stylish, hipster bike shop on Copenhagen, I lashed out and bought two sets of secure skewers.

To steal our wheels now you need to come armed with an unusual 5-sided Allen key. No-one’s stolen our wheels yet.

Skulking underground

3 August 2018

Stockholm

What to do on our last day in Stockholm?

Since it was still hot we decided on a tour of the underground to examine the extensive public artwork for which the stations are renowned. It was delightfully cool, especially in the deeper sections.

Hewn out of the stable granite and gneiss bedrock of the city, many of the newer stations expose the bare walls and the concourses are huge caverns. Many of the stations have been artistically themed. We overstayed our 75 minute metro tickets but nobody seemed to mind.

We started and ended the day swimming at the bathing area in the lake on the southern shores of Södermalm. It was crowded in the evening but quiet early in the morning. There are summer stalls set up for eating and drinking and playing boules. They were doing a brisk business.

 

A foggy day from Söderköping

31 July 2018

Söderköping to Nyköping

After a self-catered breakfast in the Söderköping youth hostel we cycled off in fog – thick, warm fog that hung around for an hour or two. Suffice to say it was pleasant cycling and a totally different experience to our recent sunny days.

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We arrived at the ferry near Skenäs with a stinky rubbish truck and considered waiting for the next crossing but that would have meant an hour’s wait and the only cafe was on the other side of the fjord, so we pedalled onboard and stood upwind. The cafe was disappointing but the swim soon after was deliciously cool.

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Our way then became quite tough with many short, steep hills to climb but, mercifully, corresponding descents followed.

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We had a good lunch at Nävekvarn. The Systrama Brådhes Cafe by the harbour was the best eatery we’ve encountered on the road in Sweden. We shared Swedish meatballs and smoked salmon.

We were obliged to take a fairly major secondary road most of the way to Nyköping. It started with a wide shoulder and sparse traffic but later we had to share the lane with too many 80km/h vehicles. It was a relief to turn onto a cycle track for the last few kilometres.

Nyköping is a compact city with a large, pleasant and car-free centrum. There are quite a few pretty, old buildings that share the precinct with new and remodeled ones.

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View from hotel room – we are staying in a huge wellness hotel that appears to have been a Sunlight soap factory or similar in the past

During the 20th century the Swedes seem to have valued modernisation over conservation in many places. Perhaps the climate is so extreme that thermal performance trumps other considerations.

Cycling by the Göta Canal

30 July 2018

Opphem to Söderköping

Feeling pampered and refreshed by Lisse & Roger we packed our bags, got back on our bikes and headed off towards Stockholm.

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Our back road wound through forest, farmland and lakes; all strewn with boulders left by receding glaciers. They range from car-sized, to house-sized and bigger. They are too big to move and must be worked around. Only the trees seem up to the task of breaking them up and pushing them aside but that takes time.

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We found ourselves back in the outskirts of Linköping before joining an impressive cycling arterial heading towards the Göta Canal at Norsholm. We ended up on a wide sealed shoulder on Route 210 before finding a quieter alternative.

We spent a while relaxing under a chestnut tree by a lock on the canal at Norsholm. As if a canal lock isn’t fascinating enough this one has extra value as a road and the fast train between Linköping and Stockholm crosses the canal at ground level! So, the lock master needs to ensure that a 300 km/h train isn’t approaching before lifting the railway bridge AND OVERHEAD CABLES for masted boats to pass. As the bridge lifts, the catenary wires droop and the power cables dangle less than half a metre from the ground. I wonder whether the power is isolated temporarily. There are small DO NOT TOUCH THE CABLES signs in Swedish. The lock master then yells to the boatie to get a wriggle on – fair enough, I say.

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We cycled a few kilometres on a tow path before heading into the forest as thunder and lightning crash around us. We were immediately besieged by pesky swarms of small flies. They wouldn’t settle but hovered near our faces and we were glad we packed our fly nets.

The locks that don’t involve Sweden’s rail system seem to be staffed by Swedish university students. They wear hi-viz outfits and wireless controls around their necks. We chatted with one lock keeper who was slightly embarrassed to tell us her lock involved a meagre 5cm level change – necessitated by a surveying error perhaps. She agreed that her job could be a bit boring sometimes but the boaties provided entertainment. She restrained herself in their presence but she and her friends often enjoyed a laugh at their expense at the end of the day.

We’re staying in a youth hostel by the canal on the outskirts of Söderköping which is the most charming of the Swedish towns we’ve seen so far with an unusual city hall, old trading buildings and a long wharf. The hostel is a traditional Swedish building, timber-clad and timber-lined with small doorways and low ceilings. It’s Falu red on the outside and white and pale green inside. It feels like a big dolls’ house.

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We are only a few kilometres from the end of the canal at Mem.

Boating & moon watching

28 July 2018

Tranås to Opphem

The weekly market was being set up in Tranås square as we left town at 8am. It was cool, sunny and calm and we rode on quiet roads through tranquil forests. We passed many lakes and stopped at one for a swim, joining a Swedish family who were sunning themselves and playing frisby and a woman with a regal-looking Irish Setter. He had a beautiful red-brown coat and was reluctant to get it wet.

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By the time we arrived at Opphem in the early afternoon it was hot again. We found Lisse and Roger (friends who lived in Adelaide in 2006-07) at their summer house. They took us in their boat to an island in the lake for a picnic and swimming. The lakes are extensive and joined by small canals. Apparently you can navigate to the sea or to the Göta Canal.

Lisse and Roger’s house is 70s-themed on the inside and Falu red on the outside – the traditional colour for almost every house and farm building in the Swedish countryside. The iron oxide pigmented paint looks perfect against the dark green forests and the homes appear cosy and inviting – all too cosy in this record breaking summer.

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We spent the evening on and by the lake watching the lunar eclipse. Surprisingly, it was visible in Adelaide and Opphem simultaneously. It was difficult to see the moon because of haze near the horizon but finally Lisse spotted it, faint at first, but growing brighter in its full umbral, red stage. We watched as it emerged from the Earth’s shadow – it seems that the Earth may indeed be round after all!

We had a great time catching up with Lisse and Roger and will stay another day before heading on towards Stockholm. We slept in the cubby house in the garden.

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Sunny Sweden – but it’s too hot!

25 July 2018

Helsingborg to Osby

We left Nadia’s immaculate AirBnB in Helsingborg early after a self-catered breakfast of muesli and drinking yoghurt. It was a clear, calm day and we were soon cycling in idyllic conditions through tranquil Swedish farmlands.

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There are no significant ridges or valleys (or rivers) just gently undulating farm land and forests (glacial moraines?). The countryside is dotted with small hamlets, villages and towns. There are also isolated factories that look clean and tidy.

There are many huge horse studs with sleek horses and leggy foals. Other farm animals included cattle in stalls and in the fields, sheep, alpaca and a few ostriches!

Garmin took us on an extended spruce forest adventure where we saw deer grazing and scampering away.

We stopped for reviving food and drink a bakery (bageri) in Klippan.

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This is what the school children buy from the Klippan bakery – their school lunches are too healthy!

We’ve cycled on mostly quiet roads and segregated cycleways. Where we had to contend with traffic, the drivers (with one notable exception) have been considerate and have given us a wide berth.

The day turned out to be hot and long and we arrived in Osby worn out. Fortunately there is a cool, tea-coloured and surprisingly shallow lake where we soaked to cool down before dinner.

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Osby is a great place for trainspotting with many trains passing every hour (freight, regional and fast intercity). Contrary to what we had read, at least some of the regional trains take bikes so we may resort to those in coming days.

Slow boat to Denmark

17 July 2018

We hurried to the port to catch the 11 o’clock ferry to Gedser in Denmark but discovered they’re working to a ‘special plan’ this week so no 11 o’clock sailing and we need to wait until 1pm. On the bright side, we have some time to brush up our Danish.

DSCN1196Seaman’s Mission, Rostock

We’re sitting at a shady table outside Rostock Seaman’s Mission. Port workers and polizei are having their lunch. The canteen has a pretty impressive spread of high quality, real food on offer including fresh chive and parley garnishes, etc. We have our handlebar bags surreptitiously stuffed with delicacies from breakfast so we’ll leave that food for the locals.

Speaking of breakfast, we had a more-than-hearty frühstück at the hotel. We eschewed the steak tartare but indulged heavily on most other offerings to the sound of Pat Benatar singing Love is a Battlefield. It is reassuring to know that the German commitment to a proper breakfast and 80s pop music is undiminished.

Help yourself breakfast is a boon to touring cyclists. You NEVER regret those cheese rolls at morning tea. It’s best to prepare the trail food before eating while your motivation is piqued.

Kreuzberg Sommerbad revisited

14 July 2018

The Kreuzberg Sommerbad didn’t disappoint. It is a set of beautiful swimming pools set in a leafy park not far from our digs. During our last few wintry weeks in Adelaide we’d been imagining being warm in Berlin and going swimming in the sommerbad, and so it was yesterday afternoon.

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There was a mass of bikes parked higgledy-piggledy around the entrance (massive in an everywhere-but-Netherlands sense) and I feared that the pools would be crowded but keine problem; there was plenty of room. The pools are very expansive and there weren’t THAT many people there, it was just that they must have ALL travelled to the pool by bicycle. How else? There was no car parking at the pool anyway.

There was less naked flaunting than last time. There were transgender inclusive facilities.

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Changerooms sign

 

When we left we discovered Rosalie’s front rim had split and her tyre blown out.

(worn out rims) + (tyre over-pressure in the hot afternoon sun) = blow out (rim + tyre)

A visit to a bike shop is called for and Rosalie can get a brand new pair of wheels to start wearing out, but in the meantime it’s Shanks pony.